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McLeod Plantation: Opening a Window to the Past, Part 1
4/22/2015 4:34:02 PM

In 1862, a 19-year-old enslaved man named Stephen Forrest was left to be the caretaker of McLeod Plantation. Mr. Forrest is photographed here in the 20th century. Photo Courtesy of SC Historical Society

William E. McLeod. Photo Courtesy of SC Historical Society
1 of a 4 part series

By Dana Rasmussen

There were once hundreds of plantations dotting the landscape of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Today, few survive and even fewer provide the public with the opportunity to experience and learn about the complexity of life in the old South. The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) will unveil the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, located on James Island, to the public for the first time on Saturday, April 25.

The History of McLeod

Before it was a plantation, the land was already a historic site. Native Americans occupied the site before it became what some believe was the location of the short-lived James Towne, the second English town built in South Carolina, in 1671. From the 1680s through the 1840s the property exchanged hands several times. During the American Revolution’s British siege of Charleston, its fields were headquarters for British General Cornwallis.

In 1851, the McLeod family acquired the 1,693 acre tract. When William W. McLeod purchased the sea island cotton plantation, he could not predict that cotton production would be halted by war in 1862. By war’s end, his family’s ownership was in question. Following the plantation’s evacuation, it served as headquarters for Confederate and Union troops, including the African American Massachusetts 55th Volunteer Infantry.  

Within a month of Charleston’s surrender in February 1865, the property, under Union General William T. Sherman’s orders, was divided into 40-acre lots and granted to 38 freedmen, some of whom were once enslaved there. However, an abrupt policy change returned most freedmen’s land to the previous owners. To help enforce this policy shift, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands opened a field office at McLeod Plantation.

Eventually, the children of William W. McLeod regained ownership of the property. The last McLeod to live on the plantation, William E. McLeod, died in 1990 at the age of 104. He left the property to the Historic Charleston Foundation, who sold it to CCPRC in 2011.  The history of McLeod’s ownership however, tells but a sliver of the plantation’s whole story. When CCPRC obtained the site, it was decided that a broader story would be told – that of the hundreds of African Americans who once called McLeod Plantation home.

Starting April 25, the property is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Stay tuned to the next issue for more on McLeod Plantation, or for more information, visit


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